Stop Burning Wool, Weavers Plead
In a barbed wire fenced homestead in Rurii, Nyandarua County, we meet Anne Nyambura who is penning her sheep awaiting shearing. We find her separating the sheared sheep from unsheared ones.
Sitting on the grass she explains how vital shearing of the sheep is. ”It improves the sheep’s health, reduces its rate of infection of diseases like club lamb fungus which affects the skin. It also gets rid of lice, fleas, ticks and bugs that hide in the wool and suck on the sheep’s blood,” she remarks.
In her company is Paul Kimani, a shearer in the region. Shears in one hand and the other tightly holding the sheep between his legs, he explains how the indefinite shutting down of the spin-knit wool company affected him.
“Shutting down of the company made us stop buying wool from the farmers, now what is left for us is just the fee that we charge for shearing services,” says Kimani.
He explains how they would grade the wool before buying it depending on the quality. Good quality grade would go up to Shs.200 per kg, others ranged between Sh. 20 and Sh.150 per kilo.
“We used to shear for free and buy the wool. Now we are forced to charge the shearing fee, it’s up to the farmer to decide what they will do with the wool,” says Kimani.
Nyambura proceeds to burn the wool to rid pests off her compound, regretting that earlier they would get some money from the wool. The shearing, she says, has discouraged farmers from keeping a large number of sheep to cut expenses.
Our next stop is at Gatimu ward in the county. In a tiny unkempt house, we find sacks scattered all over the floor, full of smelly wool.
Sitting behind a spin wheel is Peterson Mutugi, who says he has been processing wool threads for 30 years that are used to make blankets, mats, wall hangings, shoulder shawls, leg warmers and socks.
“I was diagnosed with Polio Myelitis at the age of two years which left my left foot paralyzed but that did not stop me from depending on myself and the course that I have to raise and have a stable family,” introduces the 59-year-old weaver.
It is a small process which begins with hand carding using a hand carder to remove dirt and dust from the wool, making the wool light and fine for easier yarn and neat threads.
He adds that the yarning is done when the wool is dirty for it still has the oil from the animal’s skin which solidifies fast, sticking from one piece of wool to another.
While plying the wool, Mutugi explains that they use cotton at the start of every ply to tighten the start of the process, shifting hooks on the bobbin case to have an even yarn. The yarned thread he later uses to make mats which are designed into different patterns.
Showing the different designed patterns of Elephant, Giraffe and Rhino he explains “I do not use chemicals for colouring, instead I employ extracts from plants to get the natural African taste that attracts tourists.”
The father of five also adds that he has no direct contact with the tourists forcing him to sell to traders who tend to make higher profits. He sells a mat, at between Sh.500 and Sh.1, 000, which he says earns the traders up to Sh.2,500.
“We urge farmers to cease burning and disposing wool but instead search for local markets other than waiting for companies to reopen. The youths as well as disabled persons should gain interest in learning such skills, which require minimal energy,” he adds.
Nyandarua County’s Deputy Director for Livestock and Fisheries, Joseph Rukwaro, confirms that the wool market is available, only that it needs to be streamlined.
“There are brokers who buy wool although their market is not clearly known. The known markets are in Nanyuki owned by the P.C.E.A church and Njabini wool crafters.”
“We have 277,000 wool sheep compared to 100,000 hair sheep. This shows there is availability of wool.
Farmers have been giving shearers the wool after shearing instead of burning which creates little profit for them,” adds Rukwaro.
Rukwaro said the county government had rolled out a programme in which women and people with disabilities were given spinning wheels hoping to create a little market for the wool though it was in surplus.
“There are plans to open breeding stations in Ol Joroorok Constituency for cordial breed and in Njabini for Hampshire breed which we are hoping will open soon,” he concluded.
The devolved government has also been providing improved breeds to improve the quality of wool and also send extension service workers to educate farmers on the type of breeds with the best wool quality.